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One looks in vain for the name Harold Robbins on this thoroughly trashy tale that epitomizes what Hollywood called adult entertainment in 1962. But Irving Wallace is the scribe behind a book exploiting the controversial Kinsey Report, and written on the level of women's-magazine drivel (I remember sneaking a look at a few pages when I was 13 or so). In 1962 the good Doctor Kinsey's full report on sex research was nine years old, but Wallace's Dr. Chapman is just getting around to canvassing American womanhood on the subject of -- golly gee, dare we say it? -- sex.
Remember the drama Kinsey from 2004, with Liam Neeson and Laura Linney? I barely do, but I remember thinking at the time that it was pretty good. The camp qualities of George Cukor's The Chapman Report are surely more memorable. The 1962 film makes little jabs at seriousness yet knows that it's an all-star super-soap, like the glossy young-love epics that Delmer Daves was turning out for Warners at this time.
Played straight, The Chapman Report is an inadvertent gold mine for sarcastic armchair critics. Dr. Chapman (Andrew Duggan) and his research assistant Paul Radford (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) arrive in Los Angeles to conduct a survey on female sexuality, and approach a woman's club with the proposal of doing intimate interviews. Although some of the ladies are incensed, four women from a particular upscale housing division take part. Married with two children, Sarah Garnell (Shelley Winters) admits that she's cheating on her husband Frank (Harold J. Stone) with a director of plays, Fred Linden (Ray Danton). Young widow Kathleen Barclay (Jane Fonda) is in denial about her frigidity and the influence of her doting father (Roy Roberts). Single Naomi Shields (Claire Bloom) is a serious nymphomaniac and an alcoholic to boot; she's already on a downward spiral to personal disaster. Arts-oriented Teresa Hamish (Glynis Johns) loves her husband Geoffrey (John Dehner) but is excited by the prospect of a fling with a handsome athlete she meets on the beach, Ed Kraski (Ty Hardin). Teresa pretends to paint Ed as a way of seducing him. Publicly opposing the Chapman survey is Dr. Jonas, who believes that the researchers are giving their subjects too much information and raising doubts about the normality of their personal sexuality. Jonas asks where the "love" is in Chapman's statistics. Paul Radford breaks the first rule of his job when he becomes personally involved with Kathleen.
Hovering between the soap dish and the trash basket, The Chapman Report must have seemed just as bogus even when new. For all of Dr. Chapman's serious talk, his Report project is placed in doubt from the beginning. His sampling of American womanhood includes only wealthy subjects, all of whom have "interesting" sexual problems ripe for exploitation, up to but never beyond the line of Production Code tolerance. The interviewees have been told to expect simple and direct questions about sex habits, yet our four women respond as if being propositioned on the street -- they're humiliated, angered, or in denial about obvious personal sex issues. Each wants to see herself as normal, yet special. Jane Fonda's Kathleen might as well hang a sign around her neck reading "ICE CUBE", as she goes into neurotic fits at the mention of her dead husband and tries to hide the fact that she may still be a virgin, despite her previous marriage. Shelley Winters is a bored hausfrau looking for validation for her extracurricular romance with an obvious "user" lothario. Claire Bloom's Naomi prowls and seethes with a combination of self-hatred and unbridled lust, as if she can barely restrain herself from jumping any man she sees.
None of this is subtle, and interviewer Efrem Zimbalist's "just the facts, ma'am" attitude doesn't help. A viewer may resist for a few minutes, but the accumulation of silly detail, overstated acting and one-theme characters is just too much. The movie makes American women appear to be a pack of bubble-headed ninnies at the mercy of their emotions. The gloss factor is important as well. All though not part of the 1%, they all live in a swank housing tract on an L.A. hillside with a large body of water in the background (Stone Canyon Reservoir?).
The fourth subject is Glynis Johns' Teresa Hamish, whose episodes are meant to be lighter than the others. Supposedly 28 years old (the wonderful and talented Ms. Johns was a good-looking 39 at the time), Teresa recites poetry on records and apparently lives in a romantic fantasy world. Her embarrassing attempt to seduce the hopelessly crude Ed Kraski ('crass', get it?) is treated as a big joke, especially when she shows up at the beach wearing a bikini swimsuit seemingly made of table setting doilies, or lace diapers. I suppose we're meant to laugh at Teresa's folly, but the other women's stories seem just as foolish.
Playing in her full dumbbell mode (which began to wear thin way back in George Stevens' great A Place in the Sun), Ms. Winters' Sarah is just as pathetic. Sarah's delusion that the ostentatiously creepy Fred loves her is almost as funny, especially when he won't take her anywhere but his boat and insists that she not show up without making an appointment. Women in love can surely be as blind as this,
The most serious
Fourteen years later in Coming Home Jane Fonda would play a similar character, the widow of a war hero expanding the horizons of her sexuality. Kathleen's discomfort with sexuality can't be seen as a personal choice but must be tagged as a symptom of frigidity. In this subplot The Chapman Report makes Paul Radford's unethical behavior seem benign. Even Dr. Chapman has no qualms when he finds out that his helper is romantically involved with one of the subjects, a development that could easily compromise the whole project. Paul takes it upon himself to cure Kathleen and wean her away from her grasping father. She responds like a lost lamb trotting along behind her new master, and the payoff is of course (implied) sexual union. Efrem Zimbalist Jr.'s character may be the picture of earnest sobriety, but we still think that interviewing housewives about sex sounds like a great way to pick up easy conquests. Baaad ethics! Baaad researcher!
What's worse, The Chapman Report grossly misrepresents the purpose of the Kinsey Report. The script endorses the dissenting opinion of the crabby Dr. Jonas, that Chapman's work is harmful to women because Love never enters into the equation. The show makes the Kinsey people look like irresponsible meddlers, screwing around with the delicate psyches of American women, who will be much happier living in a bubble of ignorance as regards their sexuality.
The mission of the Kinsey Report was, of course, simply to amass facts and statistics about sex that had never before been gathered -- the entire subject hadn't advanced beyond gossip, alley talk and erroneous assumptions made mostly by male authorities. The Chapman Report behaves as if the sex problems of these women are the fault of progressive ideas in general, made worse by Chapman's sex investigators. The gross inconsistency shows when Paul Radford lays a harsh judgment on Naomi's sad fate: "She was doomed anyway." Made at the dawn of the Women's Liberation Movement -- more or less when The Pill was just becoming widely available -- The Chapman Report is a reactionary sexual statement but will more likely be received as a cynical belly laugh. It hasn't shown on TV (at least in Los Angeles) in a long time.... and I probably shouldn't make guesses why.
Besides giving actor (and acting teacher) Corey Allen a prime showcase, The Chapman Report has other interesting supporting characters in bit roles, like Cloris Leachman (barely used) and Chad Everett (looking mighty young). Alex Cord is reportedly in there somewhere as well. We don't know if The Chapman Report was a troubled production but the IMDB mentions actors Jack Cassidy, Grady Sutton and Pamela Austin as playing in a deleted scene.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of The Chapman Report is a good enhanced encoding of a reportedly much-requested title. The quality is good in most scenes but sequences around opticals, especially the opening titles, are pretty rough, as if parts of the printing negative had been replaced by iffy dupe material. This just means a higher degree of granularity in the image and weaker colors, and it only lasts a few seconds. Leonard Rosenman's "important!" score comes through loud and clear on the soundtrack. The Chapman Report uses 'wavy oil dissolves' to go in and out of flashback scenes. The way these are cued, as the various desperate housewives squirm in their interview chairs, is especially funny (well, it was at my house).
The trailer included sometimes has a smoother image than the feature itself. The show is sold as an important social document, but with plenty of sex. If the trailer on view looks a little odd, it may be because it is missing a layer of superimposed text, hyping the film's salacious content. The missing text might follow the 'case history' format of the poster art used on the disc cover.
While watching this movie I couldn't help but think that the male actors had been purposely chosen not to be matinee bait. Even body-beautiful joyboy Ty Hardin is playing a mindless galoot. It's also interesting that most of the supporting actors have histories as bad guys in genre pictures. Ray Danton is best known as the gangster Legs Diamond and John Dehner & Harold J. Stone have certainly played their share of villains. Roy Roberts, Jane Fonda's semi-incestuous father, is a film noir heavy from way back. Next to these guys, Chad Everett looks like a cherub.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Chapman Report rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.